Pie For Dinner — Another Way to Achieve My #piegoals?

As I was thinking about my blogging schedule, I was very aware that I’m overdue for a #piegoals update.  The significance of this fact is that it was high time for me to get in the kitchen and do the work needed to make progress towards my goals.  As much as I love pie,   baking a dessert pie on a regular basis can be damaging to one’s waistline as I addressed in a prior post.  You can read all about how I minimized the damage here.  That said, I need to work on my skills so baking full-size pies is a necessity.  One idea for how to do this was to bake a pot pie for dinner, so I’ll share more on that experience as well as a quick tool and book review.

Dexas dough cutter with fluted wheel

First, in preparation for a year of pie baking, I invested in a couple of new tools that I put to work as I prepared my first pie of the new year.  A relatively inexpensive tool which worked nicely is the Dexas Dough Prep Set which I picked up at Bed Bath and Beyond for $14.99.  The set includes a handle and four interchangeable plastic blades which can be used for pastry, pies, and pizza.  I used the fluted wheel to trim the edges of my dough once I rolled it out.  It was very easy to change out the wheel and to use it.  Also, the handle was very comfortable in my hand.  This wheel enabled me to quickly and easily cut attractive, even fluted edges.  Previously I had just been cutting my edges with a knife, and they were not all that neat or attractive.  The second new tool I used is an Emile Henry square baker which I fell in love with while shopping at Williams-Sonoma.  I’ll share more about how this worked out later in the post.

With that bit of background, after discovering the ability to borrow e-books from my local library, I decided to check out a book titled Dinner Pies: From Shepherd’s Pies and Pot Pies to Tarts, Turnovers, Quiches, Hand Pies, and More, with 100 Delectable and Foolproof Recipes by Ken Haedrich.  This book appealed to me as I liked the idea of a savory winter pie given our recent cold (by LA standards) rainy weather.

After reading the introductory chapters, I browsed the various pie recipes on a cold wet afternoon and decided upon the Shrimp Pot Pie.  The recipe was for a single crust pie, with the author’s intent being that you would make individual pot pies.  I decided against this as I did not have deep enough individual pans, and I only had two of them.  The recipe called for Haedrich’s Go-to Pie Crust which uses a combination of shortening and butter with a touch of vinegar to ensure flakiness.  One of the things I really liked about the crust recipe is that the author encourages using a food processor to make the crust, and provides very good instructions for doing so.  The recipe for this crust is provided on the Amazon page that I linked to above and I would say that this is a good all around pie crust recipe.

The recipe for the pie filling was simple, but honestly, this is an area where I experienced a bit of disappointment.  The combination of shrimp and vegetables was good — the problem was the sauce which called for a combination of heavy cream and half and half.  The only seasoning for the sauce was a bit of parsley, pimenton, thyme, salt, and pepper.  As a result, the sauce was really rich but also very bland.  To create more flavor, I added a bit of lobster flavored Better than Bouillon from my refrigerator which really helped.  In retrospect, a reduction with a stock perhaps made from the shrimp shells and less of the heavy dairy might have provided a better result.  I know the author’s intent was to keep things simple, but why not have flavor and fewer calories?

The finished filling, ready to be topped with crust

After adjusting the flavor of the sauce, I followed the directions to allow the filling to cool in the hopes of keeping the sauce from boiling over or reducing too much while baking.  Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to work very well for me.  As you can see in the finished photos, after baking a great deal of the sauce escaped and pooled atop the crust.  I suspect that with a two crust pie the sealed edges would have minimized this problem.

Pot pie is ready to go in the oven

I did attempt to get cute with the top of the pie and made some fish cut-outs for decoration.  I cut these out freehand as I did not have fish-shaped cookie cutters.  In retrospect, I should have applied the eggwash before putting on my fish decorations.

In the end, while the recipe ended up fine in the taste department, it was disappointing in overall appearance.  My biggest problem was the sauce pool on top.  It may have been helpful to use a pan that was not quite as deep as my pretty new Emile Henry baker, and to try and seal the edges of the crust tightly against the side of the pan.  To do that, I should have cut my crust larger.

By the way, after baking the pot pie I had some dough leftover so I decided to use it to make some turkey chorizo empanadas which were quite yummy.  The turkey chorizo was made in house by my local market.  I briefly sauteed about a half cup each of chopped onion and red bell pepper then added to the pan 1/2 pound of turkey chorizo breaking it up as it cooked.  Because the meat was already heavily spiced, I just added a bit of salt to taste.  I let that cool for a few minutes before stuffing the dough.  Then I sealed the edges with a fork, pricked the tops and brushed them with the leftover eggwash.  I then baked them in a pre-heated 350° F oven for 30 minutes until nicely browned.

My verdict on this cookbook is still out, but I plan to try a few more recipes before it’s time to return it.  There were several vegetable based pies of interest and one on Haedrich’s website for a Collard Tart au Gratin that I really want to try as I love collard greens.

I hope to provide my next update sooner, and in the meantime would love to hear any suggestions for pie recipes to try or technique suggestions.


bowl of black bean yellow pepper and cumin chili

Black Bean, Yellow Pepper, and Cumin Chili

One of my favorite chili recipes is from Bon Appètit magazine, and it is perfect for the cooler fall and winter months.  The weather here in Southern California has cooled off a bit which has prompted me to whip up a batch.  This recipe is loaded with black beans, tomatoes, onions, peppers with an extra kick from chipotle chiles.  You will notice that the chili is very thick — you actually puree approximately two cups of the cooked chili and use it to thicken the remainder.  The recipe calls for three cans of black beans, however, I typically cook and use approximately 1-1/2 cups of dried black beans.  Once I’ve cooked the beans I proceed with the rest of the recipe.  My one other modification is substituting ground cumin for the cumin seeds.

The recipe calls for three cans of black beans, however, I typically cook and use approximately 1-1/2 cups of dried black beans.  I pre-soak the beans which means I have to plan ahead, and I cook them with a small onion and a bay leaf.  I add a bit of salt about 30 minutes into the cooking — if you add the salt in the beginning, it makes the beans tough.    If you don’t believe me, you can read more about that here.  By the way, if you cook your own it is typically better for your wallet, and they will be more flavorful.  Once I’ve cooked the beans I proceed with the rest of the recipe.  My one other modification is substituting ground cumin for the cumin seeds.

This recipe is very easy, and as written it is vegetarian.  Instead of using vegetable broth, I use Better than Boullion Seasoned Vegetable Base with water to yield the required amount of liquid.  btb_p-11_vegetable-baseI will sometimes cook a pound of ground turkey and add it after I’ve prepared the recipe and added the puree as directed.  The final result is good on its own, but I really enjoy it with a side of tortilla chips.  It also works well topped with either a shredded “Mexican-style” cheese blend, or with crumbled cotija as shown here.  If you really want to splurge, you can also use it to make chili cheese dogs.

You can find the recipe here.  I hope you enjoy it!

Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup

As the seasons change, one of my regular cooking projects is making homemade soups and stews. I typically make a large enough batch so that I can have some to eat that week and a supply to freeze for later. Ultimately I will end up with an impressive stash of soups and stews that I can take from the freezer and use to supplement lunches or dinners during the fall and winter months. Just imagine how great these are to have with homemade bread.

One of my favorite fall recipes is for a Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup from Joanne Weir. I had the pleasure of taking a couple of Joanne’s classes at Sur la Table a few years back, and I would love to take one of her culinary journeys to Tuscany, Spain or Morocco. tuscany-984014_1920The recipe is easy and straightforward, and the result is another creamy soup without added calories from cream so it is guilt free. When blended in a Vitamix you end up with a creamy, silky smooth soup with a texture similar to the Creamy Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup from an earlier blog post. Joanne recommends enjoying this soup with a nice Sauvignon Blanc. I would second that recommendation as this soup is filled with spices which include paprika, cumin, turmeric, and coriander.

This is a really simple soup to prepare. The two most difficult things are 1) cutting the butternut squash in half, and 2) neatly getting the soup from the pan to the blender. It is also a good recipe for advance prep work since you can roast the squash in advance. In addition, I tend to wait longer than the recommended 15 minutes for the soup to cool because it really is tricky getting the hot soup into the blender without spills or burning yourself. As with the tomato soup recipe, the Vitamix will reheat the soup while you’re blending it, although you may want to pour it back into the pan for stovetop reheating to ensure it is evenly heated.

P.S. – The recipe calls for a 1-1/2 to 2-pound squash, but often the ones in the store are much larger. This time around I bought and roasted a 3-1/4 pound squash with the intention of using half for the soup, and keeping half for another use. You can certainly just eat the other half or use it in another recipe. I’m contemplating a butternut squash and spinach lasagna recipe for the other half.

Pan-Roasted Orange Maple Sablefish recipe review

This is a quick review of a recipe for Pan-Roasted Orange Maple Sablefish that was originally published in Sunset magazine. Two reviewers rated this recipe with five stars, and I agree with their assessment.

As you may know, the common name for sablefish in Canada, the US, and the UK is black cod. This fish has a rich, buttery taste and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Sablefish7I would definitely describe this as a “special occasion” meal as it is typically one of the more expensive fish in my local market — $30 per pound is not unheard of. I normally prepare it in what I call “Nobu fashion “ by marinating the fish for a day or two in a mixture of miso paste, sugar, and sake – a signature dish made famous by the renowned Nobu restaurants. This entre sells for $32 per serving in the restaurant, but it is easy to make at home.

I decided I wanted to expand my horizons by trying a different preparation and came across this recipe. It is perfect for a decoratively plated sit down meal as it presents very well, and it tastes fantastic. The cooking tips provided are very helpful and foolproof. The combination of orange, maple, and sweet potato flavors is classic, and the herb sauce drizzled atop is a great finishing touch. It is not a difficult recipe to make, but there is a bit of prep work and planning that you’ll need to do in order to bring it all together nicely. If you have a warming drawer, it is handy for keeping your vegetables warm while the fish cooks. The only change I made to the recipe was omitting the blackberries. LOL I did have some in the refrigerator, but I think I was so looking forward to eating the meal that I forgot to put them on the plates. Honestly, I was hurrying to take the photos so we could sit down and eat.

main_variation_Default_view_2_425x425.Here is my one recommendation. Sablefish is very delicate or fragile when cooked which makes plating the meal nicely somewhat challenging. One piece unfortunately slipped from my spatula and broke up as it fell onto the plate so of course I didn’t photograph that one. After this mishap, I attended a cooking class at the new Sur La Table store in Westwood Village and was introduced to a very handy fish spatula. Its unique shape is especially designed for fish and it was highly recommended by our instructor. I got to try it out last night with a rather thin large slice of swordfish and it worked great.

If you’re looking for a special occasion plated meal, this one is great…. give it a try and let me know what you think.

PS – if you haven’t tried a cooking class at Sur La Table, they are great fun. Do give them a try.

Hooray, August is National Peach Month!

Did you know? I didn’t know until a few days ago, but it seemed like a perfect excuse to make a peach cobbler. My Nana, God bless her, made the absolute best peach cobbler. Unfortuately I didn’t learn her secrets before she passed, and although this one was good, I have a few ideas on how to improve upon the recipe I found in the Fannie Farmer cookbook. The filling was a simple combination of peaches, sugar, lemon juice and butter – this is the aspect I’d like to improve upon next time. I’d cut a bit of the sugar, add a little cinnamon, as well as a bit of cornstarch to thicken the juices a bit. The biscuit topping, however was wonderful exactly as written.

I’d love to hear how you plan to celebrate the divine peaches available in your area during National Peach month.   We have eight days remaining in the month of August so let’s make the most of them!

Pane Bianco recipe review

This is just a quick post to review the recipe for Pane Bianco —  featured in the King Arthur Flour bake along this month.  I’m not sure I can commit to a second bake along, but the gorgeous photo on Instagram inspired me to bake this recipe immediately.

IMG_0018I followed the recipe to the letter, the only change was using a sun-dried tomato and basil spread instead of sun-dried tomatoes which would have needed to be chopped.  I used a grated pecorino romano for the cheese.  The dough was absolutely lovely, and the filling smelled wonderful before the bread even went in the oven.  I think the biggest challenges with this recipe were making it look pretty in the shaping process, and keeping it from over browning in the oven.  None of my kitchen work surfaces are quite long enough to make a 22″ long roll, so maybe next time I need to take it to the dining room.  Although I tented the bread during baking, it still was over browned at the end which was troublesome.  The taste of this bread, however was phenomenal so I will absolutely bake it again.  By the way, the loaf you end up with is absolutely huge so I ended up cutting it in half and freezing it for later.  I have plenty of ideas for filling combinations or substitutions.   Pine nuts and olives are two ideas that come to mind, as well as using a basil pesto.

Monthly Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers July 2016

Our July recipe was for Caramel Sticky Buns which are based on a wonderful brioche dough. The dough was soft and silky smooth, rich with the addition of eggs and butter. I made the dough roughly 36 hours ahead, and while it took a bit more effort than a standard bread dough it was absolutely worth it. Rose provides directions for a modified sticky bun with a maple topping and using walnuts instead of pecans in the filling so I made this variation. Rose’s very detailed directions are truly a blessing as this was my first time making this type of dough, and my first time with spiral rolled buns. While my finished rolls were not perfect in appearance, they tasted heavenly warm from the oven or gently reheated in the microwave.

On the first day I prepared the starter, and after a couple of hours began to mix the dough. I chilled the dough and manipulated it, rolling and performing the business letter turns and refrigerating again as directed.

On the evening of the second day I prepared the raisins, the walnut filling and the maple topping. Rose recommends Lyle’s Golden Syrup which I tried for the first time instead of maple syrup as the maple syrup I had on hand seemed really thin. I recently received a small sample of Boyajian’s Maple Flavor with an order from King Arthur Flour and decided to give it a try. The directions suggested ¼ teaspoon per cup of liquid so I used 1/8 teaspoon and a few drops extra for good measure. When combined, the syrup, maple flavoring, heavy cream and butter created a topping that was absolutely divine.

Rolling the dough into the required rectangle was quick and easy—there were no issues with it sticking to my lightly floured work surface. After the dough was rolled, I applied the egg wash, sprinkled the dough with the nut mixture and the raisins, then rolled it into the tube shape to be cut. Before cutting, I did freeze the dough for about 10 minutes, but I still found it challenging to slice the dough. The buns rose beautifully and I popped them in the oven after about two hours. My one suggestion would be to not use the baking stone as the topping became perhaps a little more brown than I would like although they tasted great.  I will bake these again as they were a hit with visiting relatives and the head baker here.

One final note – I decided to purchase a new 9 X 13 pan as my old pan was really old and not non-stick which I felt would be important for this recipe. I did a bit of online research and decided to try the Oxo Non-stick Pro cake pan as an alternative to the Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch which cost almost twice as much.

My new pan before baking

The pan performed well in the oven, and cleanup was a breeze. The gooey mess left in the pan worried me, but I filled the pan with hot water and let it sit for a few hours. When I drained the pan, it was almost completely clean — and I hadn’t even used soap. In the interest of full disclosure, I did lightly grease the pan before pouring the topping but nonetheless I was impressed with the ease of cleanup. The retail price at Bed Bath and Beyond was $21.99 and I used a 20% off coupon for a net price of $17.59 versus a retail price of $34.95 for the Williams-Sonoma offering.

My new pan after baking

How to cook a stand out stir fry

I find that stir-fries are a great staple in my weekly menus – they are easy to prepare, and are a great way to use up bits of excess produce.   I will often prep my ingredients ahead of time and refrigerate them to speed things up in the evening. For these dishes to stand out in my opinion, you need two really important things working in your favor. One is proper cooking technique, and the other is a great sauce. If you get those two things right, you can create extraordinary stir-fries with very ordinary ingredients. Honestly, I have had dinner guests rave about my stir-fries, proclaiming them to be the best they’ve ever had. Let me clue you in on how this came about.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to take a cooking class at Sur La Table with Hugh Carpenter.   Hugh has authored a number of cookbooks, one of which is titled Wok Fast (now out of print). wok fastI use this book just about every week, but I don’t think I’ve ever made one of his entre recipes. So why then does this book get opened almost every week? It is really all about the sauces and marinades. Once you master his cooking techniques and stock your pantry as he describes in the opening pages of the book, he offers up 26 recipes for sauces and marinades that will rock your stir-fry world. In fact I have made 24 of the 26 recipes (many on a repeat basis) over the years.

For a great entre, all you need in terms of ingredients are a sauce, a protein, and 3-4 fresh vegetables. For my sauce selection, I think about sweet versus savory, and which flavor profile will best compliment my other ingredients. For this yummy production, I used Carpenter’s Really Risque sauce which combines Chinese rice wine and tomato sauce with common Chinese condiments (oyster and hoisin sauces), sesame oil, pepper and cornstarch. I usually combine my sauce ingredients in a bowl or measuring cup in advance, but always wait to add the cornstarch until the last minute. By the way, I always have a good supply of common Asian sauce ingredients on hand. Here in LA, all of these ingredients can be found at virtually any grocery store with one exception. shao xingChinese rice wine, also known as shao xing is the one ingredient that is hard to come by. The only local source is a large Asian grocery chain in the LA area called 99 Ranch Market. Their closest store is a half hour away with good traffic, and language can be an issue when wandering the aisles in search of an item. When I go there, I splurge and buy two bottles to postpone my next trip. Shao Xing typically sells for less than $2 per bottle.  If you can’t find Chinese rice wine, you can substitute a dry cooking sherry.

Carpenter recommends using no more than three veggies, but I typically use onion with three other veggies. I think of the onions as being an essential freebie. The veggies should be cut in consistently sized pieces for quick, even cooking and you also should consider quick cooking versus harder, longer cooking veggies when doing your prep work. In practice it means that you may need to give some of your vegetables (think carrots versus zucchini) a head start. I often use shrimp as my protein because I love shrimp, and it is relatively inexpensive (as low as $5.99 per pound) at my local grocery store. I will use other meats from time to time.

Note that prep work is critical since when stir frying over high heat you don’t have time to go search for a missing ingredient.   When you are ready to cook, you need to be ready to quickly do three stovetop steps. Remember that you really need to stay by the stove with your implements in hand to toss constantly – I use a couple of wooden spatulas. First, partially cook your meat and then remove it from the pan so that you can begin to cook the vegetables. Once they’re almost done, your third step is to put the meat back in the pan to finish cooking and add your sauce. The sauce will thicken quickly due to the cornstarch. Have your rice and any sides ready and waiting to serve. Qǐng màn yòng which translated means enjoy your meal!